I've gotten my first couple of subbing paychecks. The first one went right into our church offering. We decided some time ago to dedicate our "First Fruits" of every labor to God. Sometimes it can be a real test. $212 may not seem like a lot, but coming before Christmas, at a time when our reserves are running low, it was tempting to hold on. But faith is about letting go, and so we did. And so far we are still living in our house, and getting enough to eat, and we have two cars, so I guess it's working. I'm thinking this may be an even bigger challenge when I start full time teaching, and the first paycheck is a full month's worth, and I don't have income from another job to help us get by. But we will face that challenge when we come to it.
Today's school was New York elementary, just a few blocks from downtown Lawrence. It's an old school, though it has been well kept and remodeled in places. The secretary told me that there is a fireplace in one of the kindergarten classrooms, and there was a belfry tower over the main entry way.
Today's challenge was a room full of fifth graders. There was good news, and bad news. The good news was that I only had them for the first half of the day, with their teacher arriving at 12:15. (Her son had the flu, and her husband took off his afternoon to stay home with him. Nice arrangement, don't you think?) The bad news was that the class had already had a substitute last Thursday and Friday (today being Monday). So when they showed up and saw me, they were not too happy.
Fortunately, the teacher had planned well. She had obviously come in over the weekend and straightened up, as well as leaving a note on the board to her students. Her plans were extensive, and all the materials I needed were out on the desk. I had almost half an hour before the students were to arrive, so I had time to get a handle on the schedule and materials for the first part of the morning, up until they went to art class.
Unfortunately, the best laid plans, etcetera, etcetera.
Fifth graders are definitely boundary testers. There were three or four students in that class who wanted to see how much they could move around, talk to their neighbors, talk to me without raising their hands, and get out of work. But when they finally had something to work on, they were amazingly capable of sitting down and focusing on it for 30 minutes at a time.
There were a couple of times during the morning when some students left to join another class. These went very well for me. It was not a large class, only about 16 students, but when it was cut in half it sort of snapped into a well-behaved little unit. Of course, I've learned this lesson many times before, but it bears repeating: a small class is much easier to teach than a large one. If you really want to leave no child behind, provide enough teachers!
I guess my biggest trouble maker was Phillip. [Once again, I remind you that I am not using real names on the Roblog when writing about substitute teaching.] Phillip managed to find every reason in the book to move around the room, and quite a few that weren't in the book. He must have sharpened his pencil down to a nub, he was up there so many times, and it's amazing that he could hold as much water as he did. And when I asked what he was doing up this time, he always acted as though I had accused him of something terrible: "Who? Me? I'm just blah blah blahing. It's ok if we do that!" Still, he worked when it was time to work. Wrote quite a bit during writing time, and plowed through the math assignment. So even though I said his name quite a few times, I doubt that I will remember it a week from now. Especially if I teach every day for the next week.
The next biggest challenge in the room was Tiffany, who seemed to be working with the attention span of a 3rd or 4th grader, instead of a 6th grader. She danced around a few times, and sang a song or two when she was supposed to be working on something else. She was really good at finding reasons to talk to other kids, but she was always polite to me, and actually sat down or stopped talking when I told her to. It just wasn't usually too long before she was doing it again. But again, she wasn't really a trouble maker, or a headache. Just a challenge.
The other challenges in the room were some kids struggling to define themselves, caught in that grey area between the little kids who don't know how silly they are and the big kids who want to both be serious and impress their friends, even when the two are mutually exclusive. Devin was an odd kid: he said some things that were funny, and some that were funny in an out-of-left-field kind of way. He whipped through his math, even the extra problem I made up on the board, and came to me to get his book (Ripley's Believe it or Not, believe it or not) rescued from the teacher's drawer from last week. I could see him heading down a path that would not lead to popularity, but might eventually get him into the Peace Corps, or something equally strange.
I taught math, reading and social studies. I took them to art, and presided over snack time. I threatened to punish them, and complimented them on their good behavior. Nobody got hurt, nobody cried, and I didn't have to send anyone to the office. In other words, it was a pretty standard sub day. If they all go like this, by summer it will all be a big blur. And while no news is good news, I do feel like I learn more when things go wrong.
Knock on wood.